Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Carbon-capture demonstration project hits another snag as a key partner backs out

The leading American effort to capture and store carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants has "hit a stumbling block" that could set back what proponents call "a promising technology for addressing global warming," reports Matthew Wald of The New York Times.

Ameren, the Midwestern power company that agreed to be the host for the Illinois project, "told its partners that because of its financial situation, it cannot take part as promised," Wald reports. The company was going to convert one of its old oil-fired power plants to be used for carbon capture on a commercial scale. Ameren now says it will shut the plant down by the end of the year.

Wald reports that other partners in the venture, known as FutureGen 2.0, could buy the failing plant and convert it, but they would have to do so before the 2015 deadline to use the $1 billion (or 80 percent of the project's cost) promised them by the federal government. This is only the latest in a long string of setbacks for the project, which has been viewed as "the nation’s best hope for taking a worldwide lead in developing ways to capture and bury carbon dioxide," Wald writes.

The first incarnation of the project in 2003 called for building a plant that would turn coal into gas, filter out carbon dioxide and burn hydrogen for power. That plan was killed when the Bush administration shifted focus in 2008. The Obama administration then pumped $1 billion of economic stimulus funds into the program with a different technology: burn coal in oxygen creating almost pure carbon dioxide to pump underground. It's unclear whether or not Congress will give the project an extension because of the current budget environment, and experts on coal-fired emissions say that without government assistance, the private sector is unlikely to invest. (Read more)

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